Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Paris. Capital of France in whose mean—and mainly unknown—neighborhoods most of the novel is set. In setting most of his action in these neighborhoods, Hugo emphasizes how a great majority of honest and hard-working people (“les misérables”) live in overcrowded and dilapidated conditions. His criticism does not originate in class warfare but rather out of a desire to help improve their unbearable situation. Many streets mentioned in the novel were destroyed or absorbed in other wider arteries during various urban renewals, especially under the Second Empire in the 1850’s and 1860’s—and later. Some simply have changed names to new appellations: For example, rue Plumet has become rue Oudinot.
Rue Plumet house
Rue Plumet house. Jean Valjean and Cosette’s new rented home in a good neighborhood. The furnished townhouse, with its solidly enclosed garden, is not only vast and almost elegant, it has a secret passageway offering escape if necessary. Since they want to be unnoticed, Valjean and Cosette never use the entrance on rue Plumet, but use a side door to a back street. After discovering her address, however, Marius visits the sixteen-year-old girl, and both confess their love for each other as they kiss. The untended garden, which symbolizes the naïveté and free-spiritedness of Cosette, is now transformed into a wondrous place, alive with sheltering trees and perfuming flowers, that welcomes their innocent “idyll.”
*Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire
*Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire (rew day feey-doo-kal-VEHR). Street in upper-class district. Mr. Gillenormand (Marius’s grandfather) owns a mansion and private garden at No. 6. Beautifully furnished and appointed, it is the residence of a wealthy bourgeois who appreciates fine art and good books but who is reactionary in his politics. The mansion is so large that it can house seven people quite easily along with Marius’s office. (Valjean, though urged to move in, refuses.)
“Bowels of Leviathan.”
“Bowels of Leviathan.” Hugo’s metaphor for the sewers of Paris. Beside their utilitarian purpose, the underground sewers hide Marius, who is being rescued by Valjean. They must wade through long tunnels filled with sleaze and slime, as the latter intelligently follows the mazelike...
(The entire section is 968 words.)
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Fantine: Questions and Answers
1. How is a convict discriminated against after being released from prison?
2. What was Jean’s crime? Why was he in prison so long?
3. What is Jean’s moral dilemma the night he stays with the bishop?
4. What does the bishop do when Jean steals his silver?
5. Who is Petit Gervais?
6. Why does Fantine leave her child with the Thénardiers?
7. How does the author characterize the Thénardiers?
8. How does Jean make a fortune in M——sur M——?
9. How does Jean’s rescue of Fauchelevant put him at risk?
10. Why does Jean risk revealing his true identity when Father Champmathieu is arrested?...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
Cosette: Questions and Answers
1. Why does Jean return to prison? What is he convicted of and what is his sentence?
2. How does Jean escape?
3. How does Jean fulfill a promise to Fantine?
4. What does Cosette give Jean that he has never had before?
5. In the first section of the book, the author compares Fantine to a lark. What bird images does he use in the second section?
6. Why do people refer to Jean as the “beggar who gives alms”?
7. Why does Jean abruptly leave Gorbeau House?
8. What is Jean’s greatest fear in being recaptured?
9. How does Jean escape from Javert and his men?
10. How do Jean and Fauchelevant...
(The entire section is 351 words.)
Marius: Questions and Answers
1. What kind of man is M. Gillenormand?
2. What were the highlights of Pontmercy’s military career?
3. Why does Marius live with his grandfather instead of his father?
4. What instruction does Pontmercy leave Marius when he dies?
5. How does the information Monsieur Mabeuf gives Marius change his mind about his father and about politics?
6. When Marius falls in love, how does he inadvertently change her life?
7. What lies do the Jondrettes tell to gain sympathy and assistance from M. Leblanc and his daughter?
8. What is Jondrette’s real identity, and why does he hate M. Leblanc?
9. Why does Marius not act...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
Saint Denis: Questions and Answers
1. Why does Jean rent the house in the Rue Plumet?
2. Why does Jean decide to leave the safety of the convent?
3. What events prompt Jean to decide to leave the country?
4. How does Eponine manipulate both Cosette and Marius?
5. To what degree are the men in the barricade outnumbered? What is the inevitable outcome of the battle?
6. Who is the spy in the barricade, and what is his fate?
7. How does Jean read the message Cosette sends to Marius even before Marius receives it?
8. How does Jean intercept the message Marius sends Cosette from the barricade and what does he do when he reads it?
9. What does Marius...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Jean Valjean: Questions and Answers
1. How does the relationship between Gavroche and Marius compare to the relationship between Pontmercy and Thénardier?
2. How does M. Gillerormand react to Cosette and Marius’ marriage?
3. What is the final outcome of the battle at the barricade?
4. What obstacles does Jean encounter as he carries Marius through the sewers of Paris?
5. Why does Javert commit suicide?
6. Why does Jean pretend to have an injury when Cosette gets married?
7. Why is Jean despondent after Cosette’s wedding?
8. What evidence does Thénardier produce to prove that he is telling Marius the truth?
9. How does Marius resolve his...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Brombert, Victor. The Romantic Prison: The French Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978. Points out that in Les Misérables the most important reference to hell is its embodiment in the sewers of Paris, through which Jean Valjean carries Marius as the final part of his quest—through death to resurrection.
Brombert, Victor. Victor Hugo and the Visionary Novel. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984. The most sophisticated study of Hugo’s fiction to date. Notes Hugo’s use of digressive patterns and impersonal, realistic narration. Draws on a wealth of French criticism....
(The entire section is 216 words.)